It all started with a simple desire to feel better.
“I was in a mental slump, a depressive slump,” Theresa Marie Pitts says. “So I started running as a way to get back on track mentally, physically and spiritually. It worked and was what I needed.”
A couple years ago, she began by running a few miles here and there, jogging around her Kalispell neighborhood or cruising through Lawrence Park.
But as a mother, she wasn’t able to leave her young kids alone at home while her husband, Ryan, was at work. So she brought them along.
“It was very difficult with our large household and busy schedule to find a time for solo runs with babysitters,” Pitts says. “I also realized that I wanted to bring my children out with me in nature and to enjoy that fresh air.”
Pretty soon the Kalispell mom and her family were enjoying fitness adventures on a regular basis, running a few miles with a stroller and playing at city parks together.
Pitts set a goal for herself: finish a triathlon. She trained a little harder, again bringing the kids along for the ride.
She finished the triathlon with impressive success. And joy.
“I loved it. I absolutely loved it,” she said.
Around that time Pitts decided to set another pair of goals: run a half marathon — 13.1 miles — and a full marathon — 26.2 miles. She’d run obstacle courses and half marathons before, but never a full marathon.
Five months ago, Pitts gave birth to her eighth child, Avi. Her training stopped during the height of her pregnancy, but not long after, young Avi was buckled into a triple stroller and joining the runs alongside her brothers, Evan, 4, and Anders, 2.
“It’s a lot of weight,” Pitts says, pointing at the triple stroller, which weighs about 145 pounds once three kids are strapped in.
Day after day, most of the family journeyed together for Pitts’ workouts as the Governor’s Cup half marathon approached in June. She included tempo workouts and a few longer runs, between eight and 10 miles.
“From where I was mentally, I developed mental and physical strength,” she says. “Mental strength doesn’t come for free. We have to work at it and give it time and effort just like we do our physical strength.”
Someone mentioned to Pitts before the race arrived that she might be good enough to land in the Guinness World Records due to her unique abilities. Guinness did not have a designated record for such a category, but the organization set a standard of 2 hours, 15 minutes to finish the half marathon. If Pitts broke that, she’d be the world-record holder for fastest woman pushing a triple stroller.
“It was a nice little test for me,” she says. “I focused on staying positive and wasn’t shooting for this time. I just went out there and pushed myself as hard as I can and told myself it will turn out the best it can.”
With the kiddos in tow, she averaged roughly 9-minute miles and finished in 2 hours, one minute.
Now her sights were firmly set on the ultimate challenge: 26.2 miles. And why not attempt another triple stroller world record? Guinness told Pitts that again, no such record existed but if she could surpass 4 hours, 30 minutes, the title would be hers. The challenges were plenty, including Avi’s need to breastfeed, which would require Pitts to stop multiple times. Since that would slow her down considerably, Pitts began training Avi to drink from a bottle. She also began letting the kids stay up later so they would be able to sleep in more, helping them get through the long marathon as well.
Race day arrived on July 9 in Missoula. The starter gun fired at 6 a.m., and the 38-year-old mom from Kalispell began pushing the triple stroller. The Missoula Marathon has become one of the biggest marathons in the region with more than 4,000 runners. The race winds from the outskirts of town into downtown, and spectators line most of the course, cheering on participants.
Pitts gained a loyal following, both in Missoula and online, where friends and long-distance family began tracking her every step via Competitive Timing’s app. The mom with the stroller became a well-known presence that day.
“The support and the community was so amazing,” she says. “It was incredible.”
Everything was going well until the 16-mile mark. That’s when fatigue turned to pain. Her legs hurt. Her breathing was more rapid. The heat had arrived.
“I was feeling sick and in a lot of pain,” she says. “I was completely exhausted.”
A few runners began passing her. Then she met a runner who was also struggling, a young man who had set his own personal goal but was similarly faltering late in the race.
“I said, ‘Come with me, we’re going to do this together,’” Pitts remembers. “I had to ignore all the pain I was feeling. And the more I pulled him and encouraged him, it helped me.”
She continues, “I didn’t even take time to look at my watch. I just kept going as strong as I could.”
The cheers as Pitts crossed the Higgins Street bridge and the finish line erupted as she completed her first full marathon. She glanced at the final time and let out a celebratory cheer — 4 hours, 25 minutes, 37 seconds. Another world record was hers.
“At the end, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of relief and excitement and joy and unbelief,” she says. “All of that just combined and it was just so surreal.”
Pitts remains proud of her accomplishments but mostly hopes to inspire and encourage others with her story, including her own children.
“The records are nice, but my ultimate goal was to be an example to my kids and teach them mental toughness and to be an example of that, and to help them develop an attitude of ‘no excuses — I can do hard things,’” Pitts says. “I hope I can teach and inspire others to create an awesome ending to their own stories.”